Too Much Thinking, Not Enough Writing…and How the Reformation Impacted English Food

I’ve been away from the blog for a little bit to catch my breath and re-evaluate some of the things that I’ve digested over the past six months. I realize that I’m still learning to articulate some of the thoughts that I’ve tried to process. There has been much verbiage that has come before me regarding the intersection of faith and culture and I’ve only recently entered the dialogue. However, perhaps the advantage of blogging is not necessarily to see things in completed, finished, capable of debate format, but to see things in motion. As a draft… so I’ve decided to jump back in, even though I have other drafts waiting.

So here goes…recently I had a conversation wtih an Englishman who now lives and works in America, and who happens to love Chinese food. We had the opportunity to get lunch together and we decided to have Chinese food, with me, a Korean-American as the closest thing that he could come to as an insider to Chinese cuisine. (I look the part, what can I say?)

Of course, being a lover of Chinese cuisine is a bit of a jump for an Anglo, I would think. Sure, I know Chinese restaurants are all over the world now, but still, in the middle of Asian Square with a pig on a skewer in the window would be a little bit intimidating for the casual Chinese diner, I would think, which led me to the topic of English cuisine.

“It’s tasteless–terrible really. Bland,” he said turning up his nose. “Cabbage boiled til the taste goes out of it…”

“What’s it — like Scottish food, intestines wrapped in a stomach, boiled in its own blood?” I smiled, poking fun at what little I really know about English food, that is to say, nothing.

“Although there was a time when it was good. When they actually used spices and all kinds of seasonings…”

“Oh yeah? When was this?”


“Back in the 16th century, when the English was importing all these different spices from India and different parts of the world. They brought back different cuisines and were incorporating new techniques and methods in the cooking and it was great…”

“You’re kidding. What happened?”

My English co-worker paused to lick his fingers as he downed the second shrimp dumpling drenched in hot sauce. “The Reformation. You know, the church decided it was extravagant–got rid of all the art, the fancy clothes, you know, wear all black and that sort of thing. I guess they figured the food should be simple and bland. Inquisition of the silliest things to root ’em out. Pretty soon, the culinary geniuses went to France.”

I had never considered that the Reformation would have affected someone’s cuisine. Besides completely dismissing shows on Christian TV with titles like “Firm Believer” and “What Would Jesus Eat”, and with the exception of the dietary laws to keep Kosher, I never thought that the bible dictated whether people should use pepper or oregano or not.

He continued, “If you think about it. Countries where the Reformation had a big impact, the food is terrible. Germany, not that their food was any good to begin with…the Dutch. But the Catholic countries, Italy and France, they have wonderful cuisines.”

At that instant, I had a flashback moment to a medieval history class I took years ago, where the professor posited that the Reformation took art and culture backwards, that the iconclasts took out their anger upon the art and the sensualism of the Renaissance creating a significant void in art history and creativity in general. I bristled at the lecture and promptly began researching how the Reformation was a necessary and creative step to the Enlightenment. I never got a chance to take up that torch however, as I had already spread myself too thin with other classes.

It made me wonder however, whether or not it was true. Even when I consider art today. Christian music is hardly original, at least musically. Writers, not of Christian bent, perhaps may only be exposed to C.S. Lewis and certainly don’t aspire to Timothy LaHaye. While I don’t know of any Christian chefs, it seems to be troubling to me that the arts that Christians excel at, tends to be their own. I can’t help but wonder if being iconoclastic has halted many streams of creativity as opposed to empowering it. And if that happened to the structure of the modern church, is it any wonder why our most creative youth and young people have trouble trying to redeem their creative gifts in our churches today?

And what would English cuisine taste like today if we hadn’t been so bent on taking the flavor out of it?

Would I have been the one to be asking him to take me to an English restaurant because I could use an insider?

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Comments

  1. sam shin says:

    David, I’m just glad to see that you’re back. The shirt is funny. I wonder if I am chosen to wear it myself. Forget it, I think I will choose to wear it myself. Never mind, I won’t, or will I. Hmmm….

  2. djchuang says:

    Wow, what an amazing coincidental connection between theology and food! I know for sure that there’ll always be a food connection even after this life is over, b/c after all Jesus ate in his resurrected body, and there’s a big wedding feast mentioned in Revelation: I sure hope it’s not bland! 🙂

  3. TimK says:

    Hey David, I am part of Sam Shin’s church in California.

    This article left me LOL. Martin Luther certainly didn’t appear to mind the grub and what the Germans and Dutch may have lacked in terms of cuisine they amply made up for in terms of brewing. Really, ever hard of any good French beers? Or Italian, for that matter? And when it comes to higher culture, one name (among others) percolates to the top – Bach. I could go on about the Dutch masters but I won’t. Some would say that one of Luther’s greatest accomplishments was his translation and production of a Bible in a langauge that the ploughboy could read – a real boon to literacy. All that high-falutin’ French and I-talian literature don’t do no one no good iff’n they can’t read it. So maybe the Reformation set back the culinary offerings, maybe, but did it set back culture? I think not.

  4. David Park says:

    TimK,
    Thanks for your comment! When you said you were “part of Sam Shin’s church”, it made me think…”What part is he?” 🙂
    In any case, it’s good to hear from you.
    As you hopefully can tell by my account of the conversation, I was a little taken aback by my lunchmate’s comments. But there is a bit of truth to them that the effects of the Reformation went a long way into stifling creativity and in this particular case, cuisine. Which, while it works as a superb excuse for terrible English food, you are right, it doesn’t explain a way a good deal of things in terms of progress as a whole – such as literacy, music, etc.
    But music was an exception even to Luther, as his own musicianship meant that it remained unscathed from his iconoclasm. Art, architecture, food, fashion — those “worldly arts” fell in stature.

    Perhaps, I may have a poor understanding of what the nature and purpose of these arts are, but my interpretation from Exodus and other passages is that God fills people with artistic abilities to glorify him, and the church typically hasn’t been able to fit that in or know what to do with that. That’s really my whole point.

    Unfortunately, for me (and you, it appears), the arts take an upturn through the Enlightenment at secular hands as the wars over religion begin to taper off, especially after the Treaty of Westphalia. So the argument that Protestant church as a retardant for the arts and culture isn’t without merit. Of course, what I would love to be able to say is that, as people understood a true spiritual freedom found in the Word, people were creating art that reflected more beauty and more creativity because of a much more liberated and elevated view of God. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Many artists or people that favor creativity don’t have the opportunity nor the encouragement to seek their gifts by the church, not even by contemporary churches. So many people with artistic gifts are not able to “redeem” their art through Christ for the body. Rather, the world is where creative arts are expressed and encouraged, and Christians have to carve out their own niche markets, like Christian books and Christian music. All that to say, because we have turned away the artists, they have gone on creating and lead the way in glorifying themselves. Instead of Godly artists showing the world what true inspiration can do, true freedom, true joy, true love, true discipline…and drawing others to the source of our song. Even Christian artists have a tendency to re-produce what the world does and apply a Christian veneer.

    There are groups that are working for that now – a redeeming of the arts, but still, it’s still not common for our faith to create art that the world is itching to see, or in my poor example, to eat.

  5. TimK says:

    David, great thoughts.Francis Schaeffer, now that I think of it, would probably agree with you. So, I will guzzle a Guinness, eat some saltines with cheese spread, and gaze at the Kinkade on the wall as I contemplate this. Wait, let me turn on some Yanni. Heh heh.

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